At Sourceful we value transparency, this is why we’ve measured and published the full carbon footprint results for each of our products. It’s also why we’ve verified our life cycle assessment methodology to ISO 14040 and 14044.
However, seeing a carbon footprint number in isolation means it’s hard to know the significance of that result. The solution we’ve therefore provided is to show you an indication of the environmental value Sourceful could be providing versus what is commonly seen for a given product. This is calculated under a comparable set of assumptions.
Sourceful’s benchmarks are based on the idea of running scenarios on our LCA models, built using a consistent ISO-conformant methodology. As such, we are able to maintain the same LCA modelling approach. This means we keep the same system boundaries, data quality checks and calculation methods for all the variants.
Below you’ll find information on the specific assumptions used to develop the benchmark for each of our products.
A study from DHL in 2020  found that, on average, boxes used for shipping items have 40% of void space. This excess of material is an avoidable environmental impact, that can be reduced via custom sizing.
We wanted to understand the impact of being able to right-size your box. And we assumed that you’d be able to reduce the void space to 20% as a result of custom sizing.
The second component of our benchmark is sampling. In the corrugated box industry, sampling, especially blank sampling, is commonplace. Based on our experience, we have assumed a typical case where a business will receive three blank mailer box samples to test the exact sizing and functionality of the box. Additionally for mailer boxes where printing is required, we have assumed a case where a business will pay for two printed samples to visualise and sign-off their artwork. These assumptions are conservative estimates based on our experience of sourcing mailer boxes for our clients and advice received from our domestic and international manufacturers. With Sourceful’s online platform, thanks to our 3D design studio where you can visualise the artwork you apply to your product, no sampling is assumed to be required.
For international suppliers, these samples are air freighted, whilst for UK suppliers they are delivered via normal road courier. We validated the assumption with our suppliers that even a small sample run will require the same print setup, and that samples are couriered.
The benchmark is defined as the sum of the carbon footprint for the larger boxes and for both sampling rounds:
To get a representative number across the product category, we applied the calculation across a sample of 15,000 boxes as per the following steps:
The benchmark for the paper mailer bag is based on a comparison to a common plastic alternative, an un-gusseted LDPE mailer, to estimate the difference in carbon footprint between the two options.
To ensure that we were producing a fair and accurate comparison between the two products, aligning to Life Cycle Assessment best practice, we normalised the carbon footprint results of both products by ensuring they delivered the same function. Specifically, we normalised the results using a measure of the amount of product the two bags can package, i.e. their usable packing volume. To determine this, we measured their usable volumes using loose tea leaves.
To ensure the comparison between the two products was consistent and focused on the materials, we assumed the same supplier manufacturing location. The product we modelled was a mailer bag with single peel and seal, 1 colour printing, for a 1000 units order quantity.
The LDPE mailer benchmark footprint was based on information from one of our current 98% recycled-LDPE mailer producers, who also produces a virgin-LDPE mailer for other clients.
The key differences between the products in this comparison are the thickness and weight of material needed (LDPE is around half of paper, given different densities and strength), print technique (LDPE is flexo vs. digital for paper), disposal (recycling rate is just 6% for LDPE in UK vs. 74% for paper). There are also differences in the production steps needed to produce LDPE film vs. paper, and given their difference in thickness, in the way they are packed before being shipped.
The benchmark is defined as the carbon footprint of an LDPE mailer, which is compared to that of the paper mailer:
 Useable volume: The usable volume of a mailer bag refers to the maximum amount of space inside the bag that can be used for packing and shipping items while still allowing the flaps of the bag to close comfortably, without putting undue stress on the bag or items inside.
The benchmark for shipping boxes follows the same logic applied to mailer boxes on void space, given we also offer custom sizing for our shipping boxes.
Sampling is handled differently though. Rarely will you run a printed sample for a shipping box, instead you may have 1-2 blank samples. Given this would have a negligible impact, we have not assumed sampling in the benchmark.
The benchmark is defined as the carbon footprint of non-custom size boxes:
The benchmark for shipping boxes was calculated following the same approach used for mailer boxes, excluding the impact from sampling.
The benchmark for the recycled mailer bag focuses exclusively on the recycled content of the plastic film. In turn, it gives an indication of how important it is to move away from virgin plastic.
Our supplier manufactures mailer bags with 0% recycled content, as well as the 98% and 30% recycled mailers that we offer. This means to calculate the benchmark, we were able to use the same manufacturing, secondary packaging, transport and end of life assumptions for all products. We then changed the dataset used to model the film. As a result, we can show the potential difference in your carbon footprint when you order a 0%, 30% and 98% recycled content mailer bag.
Screening the market, PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) and BOPP (Biaxially Oriented PolyPropylene Films) tapes represent the vast majority of alternatives to paper-based tapes. Custom printed paper and plastic tapes, whilst possessing quite different properties, have very similar applications.
For tapes, we calculate a benchmark of both a PVC and a BOPP tape. We do this by taking the carbon footprint model of the paper-based tapes, and running a scenario to replace the base material, adhesive and end of life scenario. By doing this we can understand the potential impacts of moving from plastic-based to paper-based tape.
The benchmark is defined simply as the carbon footprint estimate of the plastic tape:
Our lead supplier for gummed and self adhesive tape also produces PVC and BOPP tapes. They confirmed that the assembly process (printing, cutting and rewinding) is operated on the same machines. Hence, we kept the manufacturing and the transport components the same.
Based on their information, we made changes to three areas:
We calculated the carbon footprint for over 50 variants of each of the Sourceful tapes, and for each of the BOPP and PVC tapes. We normalised these to m^2 to provide a common basis for this analysis. We then estimated the average footprint for each type of tape, to identify the indicative differences between the Sourceful product and the benchmark.
Our assumptions are made in line with our LCA methodology and validated by product suppliers and peer-reviewed studies. However, there are some limitations to the use of these benchmarks, which we will continue to address and improve in our method.
Sourceful’s LCA methodology is designed to provide best efforts carbon footprint estimates of our products. It’s not intended to be used for definitive comparative assertions but instead, to be used to illustrate indicative differences. This applies to all CO2e estimates of Sourceful products on the platform.
 DHL Trend Research, 2020. The logistics trend radar, 5th edition. Available from: https://www.dhl.com/content/dam/dhl/global/core/documents/pdf/glo-core-logistics-trend-radar-5thedition.pdf
 Navajas, A., Bernarte, A., Arzamendi, G. et al., 2014. Ecodesign of PVC packing tape using life cycle assessment. Int J Life Cycle Assess 19, 218–230. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-013-0621-1
 Mohd Z., 2009. Approaches towards sustainability in midstream and downstream rubber industry: life cycle assessment (LCA) and environmental labeling. In: Seminar on Sustainability of Rubber Industry, MICCOS, Malaysia
 Eurostat, 2022. Recycling rates of packaging waste for monitoring compliance with policy targets, by type of packaging. Paper and cardboard packaging, United Kingdom (2018). Available from: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/ENV_WASPACR__custom_2315178/default/table?lang=en
 Chartered Institution of Wastes Management. 2022. Incineration. [online]. Available from: https://www.ciwm.co.uk/ciwm/knowledge/incineration.aspx